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Queering Leadership

Podcast Transcript

Queering Leadership

Black queer feminist scholar and poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2016) writes, “Our definition of queer is that which fundamentally transforms our state of being and the possibilities for life. That which is queer is that which does not reproduce the status quo” (p. 115).

Queering leadership is not a theory about “queer” people, nor does it identify the “ideal queer leader” (Bowring, 2004). Rather, queering leadership speaks to using queer theory to challenge cisheteronormativity in leadership frameworks by disrupting harmful dichotomies of male/female, masculine/feminine, heterosexual/homosexual (Bowring, 2004). Queering leadership is also about interrogating the “unsayable”, what is often at the margins of discourse and possibility and exposing the coercive nature of “norms” (Harding et al., 2011). It provides options and avenues to speak the unspeakable and challenge presumptions of conformity and normality in leadership, exposing what is foreclosed within these limiting constructs. For example, queering leadership demystifies visions of leaders as individuals that are dedicated, charismatic, disciplined, able to maintain order and solve problems (Rottman, 2006). Instead, it blurs the lines between leaders/followers and inside/outside by understanding that “leaders” are contingent on “followers”, as “outside” is contingent on “inside” (Rottmann, 2006). In doing so, leaders might resist rigid frameworks of leadership by questioning and challenging what has become normalized in schooling and society as we strive towards anti-oppressive practices and lead by envisioning new possibilities for schooling.

Author and advocate Dr. Zena Sharman speaks about queering leadership in the following way: “I want us to create space for forms of leadership that are expansive, robust and supportive enough to hold and honour the diversity of our lives, identities, experiences and ways of leading. To queer leadership is to transform our state of being and possibilities as leaders and members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is to resist assimilation and reproducing the status quo in favour of building something more nurturing and liberatory.”  She describes qualities of queering leadership in the following ways:

·   I lead with my whole body.

·   I practice being right-sized in how I take up space.

·   I honour the messy, the uncategorizable and the vulnerable.

·   I feel into accountability and interdependence.

·   I lead in service of surviving, thriving and collective liberation.

Sharman adds that “to queer leadership is to resist shame. It’s an invitation to take off our armour and reveal the glorious, imperfect, brilliant selves hiding underneath.” Queering leadership encourages us to embrace this shame as a source of strength. What place might affect, and desire have in leadership? How might the intimate figure for leaders? We also take seriously the question posed by Keenan & Hot Mess (2021) and apply it to leaders: “What if we took play, defiance, and imagination seriously as forms of knowledge production?" (p. 443).

As we consider boundaries of thought that emerge within queer theories, we take heed of the words of Gloria Anzaldúa (1998):

White middle‐class lesbians and gay men frame the terms of the debate. It is they who have produced queer theory and for the most part their theories make abstractions of us colored queers. They control the production of the queer knowledge in the academy and in the activist communities…They occupy theorizing space, and though their theories aim to emancipate, they often disempower and neo‐colonize. They police the queer person of color with theory. (p. 274)

Similarly, Kumashiro (2001) points to the paradox of queer identity, suggesting that while queerness transgresses gender and sexual normativity, it can simultaneously normalize other ways of being. In speaking to intersections of race and queerness, Kumashiro (2001) invites us to consider what it means to claim an identity while simultaneously troubling it.


Anzaldúa, G. 1998. “To(o) queer the writer: Loca, escritora y chicana”. In C. Trujillo (Ed.) Living Chicana theory (pp. 263–276). Berkeley: Third Woman Press. 

Bowring, M. A. (2004). Resistance is not futile: Liberating captain Janeway from the masculine-feminine dualism of leadership. Gender, Work and Organization, 11(4), 381-405.

Gumbs, A.P. (2016). Introduction. In A.P. Gumbs, C. Martens, & M. Williams (Eds.) Revolutionary mothering: Love on the front lines. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Harding, N., Hugh, L., Ford, J., & Learnmouth, M. (2011). Leadership and charisma: A desire that cannot speak its name? Human Relations, 64(7), 927-949.

Kumashiro, K. (2001). Queer students of colour and antiracist, antiheterosexist education: Paradoxes of identity and activism. In K. Kumashiro (Ed.) Troubling intersections of race and sexuality: Queer students of color and anti-oppressive education (pp. 1-25). Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Rottmann, C. (2006) Queering educational leadership from the inside out. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 9(1), 1-20.

Sharman, Z. (2019, March 30). Queering leadership.,and%20the%20possibilities%20for%20life.


Zena Sharman

Zena Sharman is a writer, speaker, strategist and LGBTQ+ health advocate. She’s the author of three books, including The Care We Dream Of: Liberatory and Transformative Approaches to LGBTQ+ Health (forthcoming from Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2021). Zena edited the Lambda Literary award-winning anthology The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care. She’s also an engaging speaker who brings her passion for LGBTQ+ health to audiences of health care providers, students and community members at universities and conferences across North America. You can learn more about Zena and her work at

Margaret Alexander

Margaret Alexander (they/she) is a Professor in the Assaulted Women and Children’s Counselor Advocate Program at George Brown College in Toronto. They have an M.A. in Learning and Technology and a M.Ed. in Urban Indigenous Education and they are working on a Ph.D. in Education: Language, Culture & Teaching. Their research involves exploring radical, transformative knowledges that work to decolonize our thinking and enable sustainable relational futures. 

Margaret has been an activist and educator with the feminist anti-violence movement for over 25 years. They started their activism working in women’s shelters and rape crisis; and have an extensive background of developing and delivering community-based training about gender violence and anti-oppression practice.

Beyhan Farhadi

Beyhan Farhadi is a postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Education at York University, a secondary teacher at the Toronto District School Board, and an advocate for a fully funded anti-oppressive public education system. Her research in education focuses on the relationship between online learning and educational inequality. 

Trained as a critical geographer, Beyhan understands schooling as a spatial arrangement and ordering system, in which intersecting axes of privilege, domination, and oppression disciplines agency. In addition to her work on public education, her publications reflect a broader interest in the politics of belonging, affect and desire, with the aim of building better relations with the systems and life that structure it. 

Beyhan’s concurrent projects include institutional equity work, and community organizing with Scarbrough Families for Public Education and OntarioSAFE. She is also an Assistant Editor for the Routledge Performance Archive on the subject of Black Theatre and Performance, is on the steering committee and research team for “Toronto “Toronto the Better: Renewing Local Democracy,” at the City Institute at York University, and is the Chair of the Critical Geographies of Education American Association of Geographers Specialty Group.

For more information please visit

Lance McCready

Dr. Lance T. McCready is the Lead Researcher for the Making Spaces Lab and an Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He also serves as the Director of the Transitional Year Programme at University of Toronto, one of the oldest postsecondary access programs in the country. His research explores education, health and the well-being of Black men, boys and queer youth in urban communities and schools. He is the author of Making Space for Diverse Masculinities published by Peter Lang and is Principal Investigator of the Black Student University Access Network and Restorative Justice African, Caribbean, Black Family Group Conferencing Project. He is the 2018 recipient of the Distinguished Research Scholar Award from the Ontario Education Research Symposium and was awarded the Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize in 2017. He is a critical friend, researcher and evaluator with the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention and a member of the Steering Committee for the Black Gay Men’s Network of Ontario. 

Syrus Marcus Ware

Syrus is a Vanier Scholar, visual artist, activist, curator and educator. Syrus is an Assistant Professor at the School of the Arts, McMaster University. Syrus uses drawing, installation and performance to explore social justice frameworks and black activist culture. His work has been shown widely, including in a solo show at Grunt Gallery, Vancouver (2068:Touch Change) and new work commissioned for the 2019 Toronto Biennial of Art and the Ryerson Image Centre (Antarctica and Ancestors, Do You Read Us? (Dispatches from the Future)) and in group shows at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Art Gallery of York University, the Art Gallery of Windsor and as part of the curated content at Nuit Blanche 2017 (The Stolen People; Wont Back Down). His performance works have been part of festivals across Canada, including at Cripping The Stage (Harbourfront Centre, 2016, 2019), Complex Social Change (University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, 2015) and Decolonizing and Decriminalizing Trans Genres (University of Winnipeg, 2015).  

He is part of the PDA (Performance Disability Art) Collective and co-programmed Crip Your World: An Intergalactic Queer/POC Sick and Disabled Extravaganza as part of Mayworks 2014. Syrus' recent curatorial projects include That’s So Gay (Gladstone Hotel, 2016-2019), Re:Purpose (Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2014) and The Church Street Mural Project (Church-Wellesley Village, 2013). Syrus is also co-curator of The Cycle, a two-year disability arts performance initiative of the National Arts Centre.

Syrus is a core-team member of Black Lives Matter- Toronto. Syrus is a co-curator of Blackness Yes!/Blockorama. Syrus has won several awards, including the TD Diversity Award in 2017. Syrus was voted “Best Queer Activist” by NOW Magazine (2005) and was awarded the Steinert and Ferreiro Award (2012). Syrus is an ABD PhD candidate at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies. He is the co-editor or the best-selling Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada (URP, 2020).